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The 2004 Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival - A chat with the creators of "Ham and Cheese"

By Jason Whyte
Posted 02/04/04 19:54:27

When I first met Mike Beaver, one of the first things I said to him was this: "You know, Mike, I'll never watch another movie with you again without thinking of the moment in "Ham and Cheese" where you run butt-naked out of a swimming pool." The lengths this guy goes to to make you laugh is pretty admirable. And as goofily stupid as his character is in the movie, he's got a lot of smarts in person. I mean, hey, if you could have witnessed his typewriters-versus-computers argument with Dan O'Bannon at a recent festival panel...

The film is small, their heart is big. "Ham and Cheese" is the story of two inept comics who believe they have the talent to take them to stardom. They have the drive, but everything else is off, be it timing, accuracy or even delivering a proper line. When Barry (Jason Jones) thinks he has made it when asked to appear on a Yuk Yuk's comedy stage, one of his first jokes not only isn't funny but doesn't make any sense: "You wonder what would happen if the captain of the old Star Trek Enterprise met the captain of the new Enterprise? 'You, #1, engage!' 'Engage to what?'"

The incredibly intelligent, well-spoken, first-time director Warren P. Sonoda was present with Mike to discuss the movie before a screening at this year's Victoria Film Festival. ("Boobs!" was immediately said by Mike as I started my tape recorder.) "Jason Jones and I have been putting ideas together about Canadian actors for a long time." Mike begins after his notable opening comment. "There were ideas going back and forth about the Canadian actor's quest. Now, originally, the idea was five actors going down to Los Angeles -- theater actor, commercial actor, film actor, and so on -- and one of them makes it big. And the story from that is how it affects the rest of them. But then eventually we just started focusing on the two of us (Mike and Jason's characters). And eventually we approached Warren about the idea. He knew a production company and began to make things happen." Adds Warren: "We wrote it in two weeks and we filmed it in 12 days. And very little of the film is improvised; despite the kind of movie it is, it is very close to what was in the second draft of the script."

So why the title "Ham and Cheese"? "We just couldn't think of a better title," Warren jokes. Mike adds "It's a contrast to a title that was on the nose. It was originally going to be called "HACKtors" or "Hack Actors" or something like that, but that was just too on the nose, so this is in contrast to any title that would be related." Adds Warren: "The thing is, you see the poster and you see the title, and you get the sense of the movie even though it has nothing to do with sandwiches. It just has the feeling of being a comedy that's going to make you laugh."

Even for such a small budgeted film, "Ham and Cheese" is filled with notable actors out of Toronto. Dave Foley and Scott Thompson from "Kids in the Hall" both have small parts as a bad acting teacher and a sniveling director, respectively. "They liked the script," Mike says. "They really liked the scenes. They were big fans of our comedy troop The Bobroom, Dave especially, and he made that known to me."

"It was a great thing to be able to send the script out and get a response from legitimate actors," Warren remarks. "I mean, Dave Foley's a star, right? And people know who he is from TV shows and movies. And they said yes because they really liked the writing, and the script is that strong. And it's not because they were getting paid -- we paid them about $100! -- people just responded to the material, and that felt great while we were doing pre-production and getting people involved.

But not only people like Foley are getting noticeable work in this film. People such as Adam Reid as a casting director (whom my fellow Canadians might know as the "Future Shop Guy") or Rob Tinkler as a wacky play director (whom is in about every third Canadian commercial). "You'll see on any given night commericals starring all of our cast," Warren laughs. "You watch any Canadian television and you'll see all of them at some point. Even Jason Jones has been in a Bud commercial." Adds Mike: "I did Embridge, Bud Light and Hilshire Farms, and other ones like that."

"But that's the charm of this movie." says Warren. "You watch this movie now, and in five years you're going to see all of these actors breaking out; I gurantee you that this is going to be a movie that when you look back on it you'll think "Wow, this is the genesis of the next wave, like 'SCTV' was or 'Kids in the Hall' after that". And all I had to do was put the camera on these guys and let them go. It certainly helped me as a first-time director who had enough problems learning the physical production of the movie."

For all you technical fans out there, the look of the movie isn't as polished as your typical Hollywood or big-budgeted film, but it isn't "The whole film was shot on mini-DV, but on the european PAL system, which is 25 frames per second, different to the 24 frames per second of NTSC digital cameras here. When you convert it from PAL to NTSC, you get this film look that looks more natural. I was very impressed with Brendan Stacey, the cinematographer on the film, how he lit very quickly and in a documentary style, but at the end of the day it looks like a movie. It's a legitimate story that you're telling."

Warren and Mike like to keep busy, and their upcoming projects are certainly ambitious even when their movie is just having its world premiere at a film festival. "My next film is a children's action-adventure movie," Warren tells me, "And hopefully a horror film that's going to be into the pre-production phase soon." As for the wild-and-crazy Mike? "We're in development on a project with The Comedy Network called "Cooper's Camera," and we hope to be filming a pilot for that very soon. Jason and I have also finished our next script, which Warren is reading right now, and it's called "Camp Killer Wannabes!"

In the end, the talent is showing strong in both Warren P. Sonoda and Mike Beaver with this little, nil-budgeted flick. "You watch SCTV and you think that show is just so cheap with no production values," Mike tells me, "But it's very funny even after you initally look at it and think 'Oh that's so cheap, I can't watch it.' But you know what? It's the same kind of feeling as this, you know what I mean? It's not a multi-million dollar movie. And there are flaws in the movie because of that, and yet if you look deep down inside you'll notice there's something there, something special. It should not be ignored."

A special thanks to Warren and Mike for doing a hilarious and informative interview, as well as time spent with the both of them during the first weekend of the Victoria festival.
Also thanks to Nora Arajs for assistance with this festival.
For more information on "Ham and Cheese", visit www.blackwalk.com
For more information on the Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival including show information and screening times, call the festival office at (250) 389-0444 or visit www.vifvf.com.
Comments on this article or any of the Victoria coverage may be sent to Jason at jasonwhyte@shaw.ca.

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